2011: The Year in Voice

Posted December 22, 2011 by Steve Gerrard

This was another big year for voice picking. After a great deal of change and even more technical advancements, we stand yet again on the threshold of the next leap forward.

The voice picking market is always changing, but it appears that one constant is innovation.  Just in the last year at Voxware, we’ve seen our R+D team port our technology to Android, establish full integration with leading WMS vendors, achieve hardware certification with an even wider array of device providers, and launch a new version of our flagship product.

The future looks bright.  But first, let’s reflect on the events that defined the year:

Vocollect gets acquired.

Vocollect was one of the early companies to recognize the potential for voice picking in the warehouse.  They were the last boutique manufacturer of proprietary voice devices.  This past year, they were acquired by the larger hardware giant Intermec.  This, of course, has created waves throughout the voice industry, as ramifications of the move continue to impact many Vocollect customers with aging voice systems.  

The squeeze on the supply chain.

The global recession hit many businesses hard, sending them searching for cost-cutting projects.  Many enterprises looked to the supply chain as an area where greater efficiency and lower operating cost could be the answer.  Naturally, voice picking got more attention than usual.  This was good news for voice vendors with a proven track record in delivering operational improvements.  Now, operations executives know that the cost of mis-shipments and mis-picks is not a cost they have to live with.

Sustainability makes a splash.

More and more, companies are stressing “green logistics” in the warehouse. Not only are enterprises conscious of their carbon footprint, they recognize that environmentally-efficient systems can lower long term costs.  

An emphasis on sustainability is big for voice picking.  Voxware has seen firsthand the environmental impact that switching from paper to voice picking can create.  Reduction (or elimination) of paper usage in the warehouse can save the use of one million documents a year or more.  Not only is that green-conscious, it’s cost-conscious.

Traceability is now a must-have.

As we’ve noted earlier in the blog, traceability is an important issue for warehouses that need to track specific products throughout the supply chain in case of recalls or other needs.  Industries like foodservice, grocery, pharmaceutical, and automotive all come to mind as those most in need of complete traceability.

This was an interesting challenge for voice picking warehouses.  Adding a voice pick code to every single case could slow down operations, as reading the code number into the system for each case picked takes more time.  This has challenged voice companies to become more flexible in their solution design.  The easiest answer to the problem has been adding a scanning element to the voice solution, thereby saving time on the pick codes while still retaining the benefits of voice.  This need to go to a “multimodal” solution was resisted by some voice vendors that didn’t have a flexible, open solution.  Narrow-minded thinking led them to preach “voice, and voice alone!” for too long.  But being narrow minded in software normally means you’ll be left in the dust pretty quickly.

Consumer-market crossover.

Traditionally, the industrial side of production breeds a new idea that is then downsized and ported into the consumer market.  But more and more, we are seeing consumer products introduce an innovation that then is repurposed for the needs of the supply chain.  Recognizing this trend, our R+D team made sure that Voxware was the first voice picking vendor to support the Android OS.  

Looking ahead.

After another huge year of innovation, many challenges lay ahead.  Voice picking is still new technology, but it is growing and maturing into something much different than the proprietary solutions that dominated the early voice market.  Here’s to another year of more innovation, more choice for customers, and more cost cutting results for the supply chain.


Steve Gerrard is the Vice President of Marketing & Strategic Planning for Voxware.


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